Pretty snazzy looking laptop, although perhaps more so when the lid is closed - the aluminium looks very nice in a we're-not-really-ripping-off-Apple kind of way. Opened up, the machine is very black, with silver trim. A pretty standard colour combination for laptops, and it works well. The widescreen display (1280*800) is excellent - clear, sharp, nice and bright, and with no ghosting. Being able to watch DVDs without annoying black bars at the top and bottom of the screen is very nice, as is the ability to have two documents open side by side without having to zoom out or compromise on the width allocated to each one. The built-in card reader at the front of the machine is a nice touch, and it allowed me to finally get the pictures I took in Greece off my rather decrepit and only semi-functional digicam. W00t. While the case is apparently made entirely of anodised aluminium, the metal is only visible on the lid. This is good - the metal should give the screen rigidity and protection while the machine's in transit.
Weighing 3kg, it's not the lightest laptop in the world, but it's also not exactly heavy. It'd certainly be fine to carry around on a daily basis. The keyboard's quite good and has a decent amount of travel. However, because the computer has a giant touchpad/mouse button combo (see picture), the keyboard is relatively distant from the typist, which takes a little getting used to. Annoyingly, the function key is where the ctrl key would be on a normal keyboard, which is a little disconcerting - I find myself adjusting the brightness of the screen when all I wanted to do was to jump to the end of a line of text, for instance. Another small niggle is that there are no dedicated 'Home' and 'End' keys - you have to strike Fn-Page Up for home and Fn-Page Down for end. Not ideal.
Sound, noise, and cooling
The machine comes with a dinky little subwoofer built into its base, as well as speakers on either side of the keyboard. The sound's not so much good as not utterly terrible as has been the case with notebooks I've used in the past. In general light use (Firefox, word, winamp, etc.), the laptop makes no noise that is audible when typing (putting my ear right next to the keys, I heard a very faint whirring sound). During CPU/GPU-intensive tasks, the fans kick in - at their highest setting, they make clearly-audible whooshing noise. It's a little intrusive in the absence of other sounds (like the early-rising fool I am, I've been doing my benchmarks at 05:30 in the ayyy-emmm while my girlfriend sleeps, so there's no background noise other than a few determined birds outside the window). However, I suspect that during gameplay, the fan noise would be completely drowned out by the music and sound effects. The fans spin down within a minute or so of finishing gaming/benchmarking. In operation, the machine mostly remains cool to the touch - the underside gets a little warm, as does the right-hand side speaker. However, these aren't exactly areas you're likely to spend a lot of time touching. There's no perceptible heat build-up beneath the palm rests, which is good. The power brick is quite small, and gets warm to the touch very quickly. It doesn't get uncomfortably hot, however, so I'm quite happy with it.
3x USB 2.0 ports, one firewire 400 port (4 pin), a P/S 2 port, VGA out, a parallel port (!), mic in, headphone/speaker out, and a 4-in-1 card reader (SD, SmartMedia, MMC, and one whose symbol I don't recognise). Pretty good - nice to see three USB ports and a P/S 2 so I can connect up a full-sized keyboard and mouse and still have two spare USB ports as well as the firewire.
Performance and benchmarks
With stock drivers and no overclocking, I got
I'm not terribly keen on the idea of voiding my warranty (I want this machine to last me through at least the first couple of years of a PhD, so I'll take stability and guaranteed repairs over a little extra performance), so no OC for me unless a game really needs it. The 2k1 score is a little better than that I get from the GF4Ti 4200 in my desktop, and that runs Far Cry well enough to satisfy me (medium settings, 1024*768). I don't anticipate any problems with gaming.
Less quantitatively, the machine feels very snappy in general use - I certainly don't notice any slowdown compared to my desktop (XP1800+, 512Mb PC2700, 80Gb 7200rpm). Battery life is purportedly 4-5 hours, but I've not yet tested that and don't really anticipate doing so. I needed a machine that can happily be moved from my room to the lab and back, to run off the mains in both places.
Aside from the lack of dedicated Home/End keys, there are only two things I'd like to see improved on this laptop. First, while it has a 3.5mm socket for headphones at the front, there's no comparable speaker output port at the back, so if you plan to use the machine at a desk with external speakers, you'll have to put up with having the speaker connection protruding from the front of the laptop. The second thing is Acer's partitioning of the hard drive. While the machine does have a 60Gb drive, it's partitioned into a data partition (FAT32, 46Gb) and a recovery partition (also FAT32, 10Gb), along with a tiny 8Mb partition and a 60Mb partition for the Arcade software. It’s a nuisance having the recovery partition, as is FAT32, but it’s nothing partition magic won’t fix. The slot-loading DVD writer can be a little noisy, but this has been the case with all portable slot-loaders I've encountered, so it's hard to consider it a major flaw.
1.6GHz pentium-M, 512Mb DDR RAM, 60Gb hard drive (4200 rpm), ATi mobility Radeon 9700 graphics (128Mb), 10/100/1000MB/s ethernet, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, slot-loading DVD+/-RW/RAM drive, 15.4" widescreen display (1280*800)
Bundled software: Windows XP Home (on recovery disks rather than a proper install CD), Norton antivirus 2004 (nice of them to provide it, although I have to use McAfee VirusScan Enterprise - university network rules), DVD authoring software, and Acer's own Arcade software for DVD playback. This is functional rather than great - I prefer PowerDVD, but meh.
Total cost including tax, delivery, and a three year collect & return warranty with accidental damage cover: £1280 (around $2000 without the British sales tax).
These really don’t do the laptop justice – as I said earlier, my digicam is long overdue for retirement. Oh well, so it goes.
I’m very attached to my new laptop. A large part of this is almost certainly new toy syndrome, but it is nevertheless a very capable machine, and should be pretty well-suited to my needs. There are already a few upgrades in the pipeline – the memory comes in the form of two 256Mb sticks. These will be swapped out one by one for 512Mb sticks to give first 768Mb, then 1Gb of RAM. I’d also like to replace the current hard drive with a Hitachi 7k60 and buy a 2.5” external enclosure for the drive currently in the machine to give a total of 120Gb of storage and a little data security via redundancy.